19. Touché, Kehinde, Touché

The silhouette or shadow of any particular culture is ever changing and can be misleading if judged just by what you see on the wall. If the sun is too high, the shadow stretches. If the pose is just right you might appear more statuesque. In our world, the media is the mirror and the flashlight that all too often simplifies and reveals these shadows and silhouettes for what they really are. There seems to be no group more simplified or more revealed in the past few years like gay men, specifically black gay men.

Yes, these flamboyant wingmen have been divided into two groups. Down low, thug, H.I.V. positive infidels or flamboyant, weave-wearing ken dolls equipped with an over-sized bag and heels. How the media took the covers off of their bodies and exposed us for what they really are? That will never be known, but the evidence is found in countless Oprah episodes, Terry McMillan tirades, Bravo’s Real Housewives of Atlanta , and countless other places in the media where we are able to discover the real black gay community and what it has to offer.

Needless to say (or maybe it is needed) those stereotypes and glaring lights never sat well with me. See, the only thing that’s worse and more uncomfortable than an untrue stereo-type is a stereotype that is true. Stereotypes that are proven to be true give the perpetrators permission to hold everyone in the community to those standards and accusations. The harm is mostly in the stifling growth of an already slowed and disenfranchised community that can spawn all types of fun little shadows like ignorance and hatred. Simply put, I don’t entertain stereotypes in any shape or form because I know what kind of cultural monsters they can perform. One little misunderstanding and we have Godzilla’s and King Kong’s stomping all over our society like a Japanese city.

Kehinde Wiley, a gay black man, under my first inspection, was an evil genius of the very community I guard so dearly, a trader working on the inside. Kehinde Wiley is an artist best known for his large, immaculate portraits of black, ‘urban’ men in traditionally Renaissance (and I ain’t talking Harlem) poses equipped with obnoxious backgrounds that results in a realistic look at the human and satirical, and almost bombastic look at the state of the black man and who we were and can be. I hated it. The saggy pants, the mean faces, and the obnoxious play on colors worked against all my sensibilities about art and aesthetics. More than visually, I hated what it represented. I despised the thought of a gay, black uplifting the image of the very genre of black men that usually find comfort in being homophobic. That is, until a friend of mine with superior gaydar (even with art) gave my gaydar some new batteries.

The subjects in these very paintings are gay. They’re the homo-thugs that Terry McMilan warns us about, they’re the trade pieces (n. visually heterosexual appearing men who are homosexual or bisexual) that my friends fiend over. These aren’t just black men of today posing as kings; these are queens of today posing as kings of yesterday. Brilliant. Instantly, the decidedly tacky nature of the work transformed into the flamboyance of our culture. The ‘royal’ gestures and poses of the subjects became overtly more effeminate. In that second Kehinde Wiley became less a trader working on the inside, but a mastermind of uplifting and broadening the connotation of the black gay man, while the media is too busy being enamored with the thought of a black man being able to stand on two feet, paint realism, and drink kool-aid at the same time. Touché, Wiley, touché.

  • Olamide

    I love Kehinde’s work (and not because he is Nigerian…well half). & I love this article. We mentally eat the garbage the media feeds us, and the fact that Kehinde shows us some truth to the community makes me smile.

  • Edie Hontz

    GREAT PIECE! Kehinde Wiley is THAT Dude!